SP-4206 Stages to Saturn


[493-500] Sources and Research Materials




This history rests primarily on documents acquired for the Saturn history project, under a contract awarded to the University of Alabama in Huntsville by MSFC in 1968. Documents in the Saturn history project (SHP) amount to approximately 24 file drawers and are currently housed in the library of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Although the SHP files contain letters, memoranda, and other documents copied from the History Office at NASA Headquarters, as well as some material from the Kennedy and Johnson Presidential Libraries, their principal strength is represented in other aspects. The SHP files are primarily a collection of MSFC documents and materials gathered from contractors involved in the Saturn program. These documents include many unpublished reports and summaries prepared for miscellaneous briefings and professional meetings. Where no official control number was included, the source has been identified as NASA Report, Douglas Report, etc.

Many engineers who were involved in the Saturn program read papers at professional meetings of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and many were reprinted and cited herein as AIAA Paper No. 0000, etc. These AIAA papers were very valuable in coming to grips with many key areas in Saturn development, in discussing problems encountered, in trouble-shooting, and in assessing the solutions adopted. For the most part, these papers are notably candid and, because their authors were directly associated with Saturn hardware, can be regarded as useful primary sources. The SHP files also include selected correspondence, test reports, flight summaries, press kits, and other miscellaneous documents from NASA and contractor sources.

Although the files themselves are arranged in chronological order, there is an extensive and detailed index arranged by subject. The index is fully cross-referenced and annotated. Additional documents, acquired during later phases of the Saturn history, are housed with the SHP files, although they still await indexing and location within the original files.

Finally, the SHP files include tapes, transcripts, and notes of 128 interviews with NASA and contractor personnel who worked on the Saturn rockets. Unhappily, some of the interviews were recorded on tapes of inferior quality and the transcriptions are only marginal or fragmentary. A number of other transcriptions, although prepared from audible tapes, were so poorly transcribed as to be unusable. Notes were taken of several interviews when use of recording equipment was either impractical or impossible. Other interviews, housed in the files of Johnson Space Center or at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., are so identified in the backnotes.

In identifying authorship or affiliation with government agencies and contractors, the following abbreviations have been used:


NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center)

KSC (Kennedy Space Center)

JSC (Johnson Space Center)

MDAC (McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company)

NAR (North American Rockwell)


In citing interviews, these abbreviations have also been used to indicate the affiliation of the person who gave the interview. "NASA" in the interviews identifies individuals primarily associated with NASA Headquarters in Washington. Although von Braun was interviewed while he was attached to NASA Headquarters (as Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning) following his departure from MSFC in March 1970, I have identified him as an affiliate of MSFC because of his close association with Marshall and the Saturn program.

Several other documentary sources were used in writing the Saturn history. The files of the Historical Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, although including miscellaneous correspondence, were strongest in the series of monthly, quarterly, and annual progress reports of major laboratories and individual MSFC programs. These files were especially useful in establishing chronological sequences and specific dates. Other files consulted are now in MSFC's Records Holding Area. These include the Director's Reading Files (1960-1969); Office of the Director, "Weekly Notes" (1960-1968); Industrial Operations, Director's Reading Files (1960-1970); Industrial Operations, Record Files (1960-1970). I was unable, apparently because of internal bureaucratic inertia, to gain access to these files until a late phase of research. Fortunately, I do not seem to have missed much. The files were disappointingly thin in any matter of substance and dealt mostly with day-to-day managerial and budgetary issues. The "Weekly Notes" were an exception, including several folders on special projects, as well as the weekly summaries from program managers and lab chiefs to von Braun, all with his rejoinders, queries, and directions scribbled in the margins.

Aside from the SHP files, the most rewarding source of correspondence and memos came from the historical files at NASA Headquarters, and from the files at Johnson Space Center. The latter included a wide range of direct correspondence among Headquarters, MSFC, and JSC. Because much correspondence from NASA Headquarters to JSC included information relevant to the Apollo-Saturn program as it involved other centers, the JSC files contained a remarkable amount of material pertinent to the Saturn.

The historian who delves into any of these files and expects to find signed, original documents is going to be disappointed. They must exist somewhere, but I did not see them. Apollo-Saturn not only flourished in the "age of the copier," it was one of its chief customers. For all practical purposes, there is nothing wrong with a copy, but the inability to find and actually handle the original takes some of the zest from historical research. The telephone is another obvious stumbling block in modern research. NASA and contractor personnel alike emphasized their reliance on the telephone to resolve problems and formulate policy on an ad hoc basis, making many decisions nearly impossible to trace. For this reason, interviews were often the only way to reconstruct some events. Wherever possible, data and controversial issues discussed in interviews were double checked against extant documentation, and/or in subsequent interviews with other people. Von Braun, however, kept a "Daily Journal," that listed hourly appointments, travel itineraries, and phone calls. Sometimes the Daily Journal included summaries of conversations, and sometimes it included verbatim transcriptions. In several instances, this made the "Daily Journal" an invaluable aid in understanding an event. The "Daily Journal" frequently included copies of memos and other instructions.

The SHP files and other documentary files used during preparation of the manuscript are listed below. (Although the manuscript includes material available in the files of the History Office, NASA Headquarters, it is not listed here because copies were made and housed in the SHP and JSC files.)


SHP files
Saturn History Project, Marshall Space Flight Center
MSFC files
Files of the History Office, Marshall Space Flight Center
MSFC/RHA files
Files in the MSFC Records Holding Area
JSC files
Files of the History Office, Johnson Space Center
SPO files
Files of the Saturn V Program Office, Marshall Space Flight Center
ASRC files
Files of the Alabama Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama. Wernher von Braun's Daily Journal is housed in the ASRC files.


Unless otherwise noted, all correspondence, memos, government documents, contractor reports, miscellaneous papers, and taped interviews are housed in the SHP files.




The manuscript's bibliography is represented in its backnotes. These notes frequently include annotations on the direct citation, in addition to a brief discussion of other relevant sources. Because of the extent and nature of modern governmental documentation, this short bibliographical essay describes classes of documents in place of an extensive and formal listing of sources. It is a summary of selected sources already discussed within the backnotes themselves. The titles that follow are those that the author most frequently consulted as a starting point, or for guidelines, enlightenment, and specifics, particularly as they pertained to NASA and the Saturn programs.




A good bibliographic reference is Katherine Murphy Dickson, History of Aeronautics and Astronautics: A Preliminary Bibliography (Washington: NASA, 1968). Dickson's work is particularly valuable because of the succinct annotations. Astronautics and Aeronautics: Chronology on Science, Technology, and Policy (Washington, 1963-) is issued annually and contains reference sources for each entry. For a well-illustrated historical survey of rocketry, see Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway III, History of Rocketry and Space Travel (New York, 1969). With von Braun as co-author, the book carries special authority in its discussion of many phases of the von Braun team, ABMA, and the Saturn program. Eugene M. Emme, ed., The History of Rocket Technology: Essays on Research, Development, and Utility (Detroit, 1964), features essays by historians, as well as participants, including von Braun. Two other edited works, with contributions by key engineers and managers themselves, are of special value. Ernst Stuhlinger, Frederick I. Ordway III, Jerry C. McCall, and George C. Brown, eds., Astronautical Engineering and Science: From Peenemuende to Planetary Space (New York, 1963), includes a variety of semitechnical discussions, prepared by engineers, that provide a good feel for the state of astronautics in the early 1960s. The book was a festschrift honoring Wernher von Braun on his 50th birthday, and its contributors had been his associates at Peenemuende, Fort Bliss, and Huntsville. Most of the essays have a historical theme. Edgar M. Cortright, ed., Apollo Expeditions to the Moon (Washington, 1975), is a superbly illustrated retrospective summary of the Apollo-Saturn program, written by NASA astronauts and executives. Von Braun authored the essay on the Saturn.

Several of NASA's historical monographs were especially useful in dealing with early space programs and with early NASA activities. These include Constance Green and Milton Lomask, Vanguard: A History, NASA SP-4202 (Washington, 1971); Robert L. Rosholt, An Administrative History of NASA, 1958-1963, NASA SP-4101 (Washington, 1966); and Loyd S. Swenson, James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington, 1966). For numerous charts, tables, and graphs, on manpower, funding, and organization, see Jane Van Nimmen, Leonard C. Bruno, and Robert L. Rosholt, NASA Historical Data Book, 1958-1968, vol. I, NASA Resources, NASA SP-4012 (Washington, 1976). Bruce Mazlish, ed., The Railroad and the Space Program: An Exploration in Historical Analogy (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), offered a helpful framework for historical perspectives.

The titles noted above were useful for Part One and throughout the Saturn history. For specific sections of the book, the following titles were especially valuable.




Through its history office, MSFC sponsored its own series of historical reviews. Volume I was published as Historical Origins of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (1960), designated as MHM-1. Subsequent titles, numbered sequentially, were called History of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center and issued semiannually through MHM-11 (1965). Companion volumes (designated as "Volume II" for each title) reproduced key documents cited in these histories. Beginning in 1966, the semiannual histories became annual Chronologies, designated MHR-6 and subsequent, ending in 1969. Based largely on these publications, MSFC issued a convenient chronology, David S. Akens, Saturn Illustrated Chronology: Saturns First Eleven Years, April 1957 Through April 1968 (MSFC, 1971), which furnished appropriate dates and titles of relevant documents for further research.




These sections deal with the principal components of Saturn hardware. Heinz H. Koelle, ed., Handbook of Astronautical Engineering (New York, 1961), provides an excellent survey of astronautical state of the art as of the early 1960s. This encyclopedic book treats structures, propulsion, guidance, and other significant topics. See also, Frederick I. Ordway III, James Patrick Gardner, and Mitchell R. Sharpe, Basic Astronautics (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1962), an introductory text by authors especially oriented to NASA's launch vehicle program.

Two invaluable references for understanding the Saturn launch vehicles themselves are NASA-MSFC, Saturn IB News Reference (1968), and NASA-MSFC, Saturn V News Reference (1968). Produced by MSFC in cooperation with the major Saturn contractors, each three-ring loose-leaf volume illustrates essential Saturn systems, subsystems, components, and miscellaneous hardware. The accompanying text describes, in semitechnical terms, the function and operation of a bewildering array of Saturn hardware. As a means of grasping the complexities of the Saturn launch vehicle and the essentials of the different stages, including tankage, engines, and guidance, they are indispensable.

On engines, in particular, see Dieter K. Huzel and David H. Huang, Design of Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines, NASA SP-125 (Washington, 1971). Both men were Rocketdyne engineers; although the book's numerous fine illustrations do not specifically identify engine components, the illustrations and descriptions obviously owe much to Rocketdyne's development and production of the H-1, F-1, and J-2, making this publication uniquely interesting for the Saturn history. William J. Brennan, a top Rocketdyne executive, presented to an AIAA meeting a succinct but comprehensive historical overview of rocket engines, "Milestones in Cryogenic Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines," published as AIAA Paper 67-978 (Oct. 1967). For the Saturn generally, see Leland F. Belew, W. H. Patterson, and J. W. Thomas, Jr., "Apollo Vehicle Propulsion Systems," AIAA Paper 65-303 (July 1965).

The procedures used in the fabrication of stages borrowed from prior aircraft experience and from extant techniques used in military rocket boosters. A useful semitechnical overview of contemporaneous practice is Frank W. Wilson and Walter R. Prange, eds., Tooling for Aircraft and Missile Manufacture (New York, 1964). Nevertheless, production of the various stages of Saturn presented new problems in metallurgy, tooling, and welding. The evolution of the S-IVB upper stage presented many typical problems. See, for example, K. H. Boucher, "Saturn Third Stage S-IVB Manufacturing," Douglas Paper 3707(1965), and E. Harpoothian, "The Production of Large Tanks for Cryogenic Fuels," Douglas Paper 3155 (1964). For discussion of the S-IC, see George Alexander, "Boeing Faces Unique Fabrication Challenge." Aviation Week and Space Technology, 77 (13 Aug. 1962): 52-63; Whitney G. Smith, "Fabricating the Saturn S-IC Booster," AIAA Paper 65-294 (1965). The S-II stage was plagued by welding problems, as described in an anomyous article, "The Toughest Weld of All," Skyline (1968), an unpaged reprint in the SHP files. Despite an obvious bias, company magazines like North American's Skyline and Boeing's Boeing Magazine frequently carried valuable descriptive articles and illustrations. The authoritative articles in Aviation Week and Space Technology are also valuable for their depth and accuracy.

On computers and guidance, see D. Morris Schmidt, "Survey of Automatic Checkout Systems for Saturn V Stages," MSFC, 10 July 1968. C. Stark Draper, Walter Wrigley, and John Hovorka, Inertial Guidance (New York, 1960), is a basic treatise. A study closely related to the Saturn program and its immediate predecessors is F. K. Mueller, "A History of Inertial Guidance," ABMA, Redstone Arsenal, Ala. (1959), written by one of the originators of the guidance systems for the V-2.




For a comprehensive analysis of management theories and organization at the height of the Apollo-Saturn program, see Apollo Program Office, NASA Headquarters, NASA-Apollo Program Management (1967), a project that covered NASA centers as well as major contractors, and ran to 14 volumes. For all this elaborate managerial superstructure, the flavor of operational problems and frustrations stands out in annual reviews like NASA Headquarters, Office of Programs and Special Reports, Program Review: Apollo (1962-1966). The complexities of logistics near the peak of Apollo-Saturn can be examined in First Annual Logistics Management Symposium, 13-14 September 1966, NASA TMX-53566 (16 Jan. 1967). See also John C. Goodrum and S. M. Smolensky, "The Saturn Vehicle Logistics Support System," AIAA Paper No. 65-268 (April 1965).




The best single summary reference for all Saturn I, Saturn IB, and Saturn V launches is the tabulation by William A. Lockyer, Jr., ed., A Summary of Major NASA Launchings, Eastern Test Range and Western Test Range: October 1,1958 to September 30,1970, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Historical Report No. 1 (Revised, 1970). A readable and instructive account of launch activities at Cape Kennedy and the launch of a Saturn V is Gene Bylinsky, "Dr. von Braun's All-Purpose Space Machine," Fortune, 75 (May 1967): 142-49. For dimensions, weights, duration, and other specifics of Saturn V launches, see MSFC, Saturn V Flight Manual, SA-501, through SA-509, which was the last flight manual issued. Astronaut Michael Collins has written a marvelous, colorful memoir, Carrying the Fire: An Astrouaut's Journeys (New York, 1974), that includes his account of what it was like to ride a Saturn V into space.




Raymond A. Bauer, Second-Order Consequences: A Methodological Essay on the Impact of Technology (Cambridge, 1969), is an insightful and provocative book generally concerned with the implications of space exploration. The local impact on Huntsville is graphically conveyed in the special supplement of the Huntsville Times, "25 Years Since" (3 Nov. 1974), in remembrance of the evolution of rocketry since the von Braun group's arrival at Redstone Arsenal in 1949.